By Jennifer Brookland
Even in a place like Niger, where most families struggle through chronic food shortages, some people are especially vulnerable to hunger. The second phase of Counterpart International’s Food Aid for Disabled Children Project (FAIR) ensures children who are deaf and blind receive just as much support as their neighbors.
“This vulnerable handicapped population in Niger is often neglected in humanitarian assistance projects,” says Counterpart’s Country Director in Niger, Marie Aughenbaugh. “Because of the daily hot meals that are cooked at the schools, with a combination of Harvest Lentil Pro and local commodities, more children with disabilities are attending school rather than begging on the streets of Niamey.”
The project, part of a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) initiative known as International Food Relief Partnership, celebrated the start of its second phase in April with a ceremony outside the school for blind children, a local partner.
In this phase, 167 blind children and 141 children with physical disabilities receive hot meals through two school canteens that specialize in educating children with special needs. The program also provides daily dry rations to more than 1,500 adults with physical disabilities.
The goals go beyond feeding children with disabilities: using schools as platforms for better nutrition is an effort to jointly increase their attendance rates and improve their overall social conditions.
Children with disabilities are sometimes neglected or even hidden away, their condition viewed as a punishment from God. Public awareness of their worth and needs, even among teachers and parents of children with disabilities, is growing but according to UNICEF remains low.
Discrimination is expressed through poor access to education, making a school-based feeding program such as FAIR a particularly valuable way to support hungry children with disabilities.
Capped by a dance by school for the deaf students that brought U.S. Ambassador Bisa Williams to her feet to join in, the launch ceremony of the project’s second phase marked the continuation of a successful initiative.
The project’s first phase provided food aid through school canteens to 101 blind children in partnership with local partner National Union for the Blind of Niger (UNAN), and provided food to 1,318 adults with disabilities.
Counterpart’s programs in Niger have increased school attendance for blind and deaf children in the two participating schools by twenty percent.
They are part of the US Agency for International Development’s International Food Relief Partnership, intended to support the production, stockpiling, transportation, delivery, and distribution of shelf-stable, prepackaged foods that can address Niger’s urgent and ongoing food insecurity.
“Counterpart’s approach in working with local partners in assisting both children and adults with disabilities has allowed the project to reach a large number of beneficiaries during the first and second phase of the project,” says Aughenbaugh.
More than six million Nigeriens faced hunger during the 2011-2012 regional food crisis, and the country experiences drought roughly every other year.
The project complements Counterpart’s Multi-Year Assistance Program in Niger, a USAID-funded initiative to strengthen resilience against food insecurity in remote parts of the country, scheduled to finish this year.